Dayton 10 Years On Apartheid in Bosnia

Bosnia-Herzegovina was supposed to become a model of ethnic reconciliation. But it's been 10 years since the war ended, and yet the differences among Serbs, Muslims and Croats still seem virtually insurmountable. Meanwhile, Bosnia is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Von Renate Flottau und Marion Kraske

For Nermin Tulic, it's his body's way of warning him of potential danger. Whenever he crosses the border into the Serbian part of Bosnia, the pain in his legs becomes unbearable. Tulic, though, doesn't have any legs -- they were blown off by a Serbian grenade 12 years ago. Since then, Tulic has been wheelchair-bound -- what he feels at the border crossing is phantom pain.

The fact that the director of Sarajevo's "Mladih" Theater still lives in Bosnia is the result of his patriotism. He was offered the job of running a small theater near Bologna, Italy after the war, but he turned it down. Today he regrets his decision, now that he knows what accepting the position could have meant for the future of his three daughters.

"I have trouble sleeping, because I constantly think about this country's dismal future," complains the slightly built man. "We were happier in 1994, when Sarajevo was almost reduced to ashes by rocket-propelled grenades. At least we knew what we were fighting for."

The war that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia claimed some 150,000 lives. But the euphoria of those who survived the conflict has now completely vanished.

It's been 10 years since the Dayton Peace Accords were signed, and yet the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina is still little more than a United Nations protectorate. Although the number of UN peacekeepers has been reduced from a postwar high of 60,000 to the current level of about 6,000, political reforms have progressed very slowly. Indeed, reforms -- within the police and army, for example -- have only been pushed through as a result of decrees or threats issued by the UN High Representative. A monster state has developed, complains Srdjan Dizdarevic, chairman of the Bosnian "Helsinki Committee for Human Rights."

More of a patchwork than a modern state

In fact, Bosnia is more of a patchwork than a modern state. The two so-called entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serbian Republika Srpska -- remain practically irreconcilable adversaries.

To this day, the Balkan republic is a highly fragmented country, with its 10 cantons, 14 governments and 145 ministers. The administration consumes 70 percent of the state budget. Social services and pensions must be paid from the remainder, and this in a country with an official unemployment rate of more than 40 percent. The result? Empty government coffers and rampant corruption. So far more than €2 billion in international subsidies and development aid is said to have evaporated.
Yet even if this small state is -- according to numerous economic studies -- on the verge of bankruptcy, it is not immediately apparent. In the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, most of the city's blackened ruins have been replaced by modern, futuristic-looking buildings. The street once dubbed "snipers' alley" -- where vehicles were forced during the war to drive at breakneck speeds to avoid being shot at by Serbian snipers posted in the surrounding hills -- is now home to a number of shiny, new businesses.

Foreign corporations compete for consumers with large billboards. A new in-crowd of war profiteers, politicians and criminals manages to distract from the real conditions of poverty in the country.

Despite outward signs of progress, Bosnia-Herzegovina remains far removed from the Dayton initiators' main goal -- to reestablish a multiethnic society that will enable the more than 2 million displaced citizens to return to their home towns and villages.

Instead, criticizes human rights expert Dizdarevic, the practice of "apartheid" is omnipresent. Only in a few communities, he says, have Muslim Bosnians been able to redevelop mutual trust with their Serb and Croat neighbors.

"We are afraid to return"

Some of the displaced have returned, but often only to register briefly with the authorities, sell their homes and property, and then move back to places where they can live and build a life "among their own." While Western organizations celebrate the return of the displaced, what is in fact happening is ghettoization -- the establishment of ethnically pure regions.

In Lukavica, a town near Sarajevo, newly constructed buildings line the streets. Hundreds of Serbs who once lived in Sarajevo have begun a new life here instead. "We are afraid to return," admits 40-year-old Sladjena, "there is no longer any work for Serbs in Sarajevo." She and her husband, Nikola, sold their apartment in downtown Sarajevo. More time is needed, says Sladjena quietly, before Serbs will be able to coexist with Muslims and Croats.

  Not everyone has the money for a new beginning. For Valentina, a young, almost toothless mother, the war might as well still be raging. She and other Serbian refugees share a bathroom and a kitchen consisting of a few hotplates in Lukavica's former army barracks. Her five-member family lives in a 14 square meter (about 150 square feet) room decorated with Barbie dolls and a colorful photograph on the wall: It depicts General Ratko Mladic, who was indicted for the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica and has been in hiding since 1995 to avoid extradition to the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

In Srebrenica, now part of the Serbian entity, it is the Muslim Bosnians who are hesitant to return home -- home to a place where they were once in the majority. Because of the election law, the Bosnian parties hold the majority in the city government. But it's a weak government that barely has the authority to make decisions about garbage collection and the water supply. Important decisions require a two-thirds majority, and the power continues to rest in Serb-dominated Banja Luka.

And because Srebrenica, 10 years after the end of the war, is still a city of trash heaps, destroyed building facades and militant Serbian rhetoric, most Bosnian members of parliament still live in the Bosnian-Croatian part of the country. Like Rizo Tabakovic, they travel to Srebrenica once or twice a month for parliamentary sessions.

A state within a state

Tabakovic was enormously lucky to have eluded General Mladic's death squads in 1995. He traveled through the forest for four weeks until he reached Tuzla, a safe haven. "I watched as Serbian soldiers slaughtered my people," says Tabakovic, "and I know that many of these criminals continue to influence politics in Srebrenica. They may have lost their jobs, but the project survived."

When the Serbs refer to the "project," they are talking about their own state within a state, which they were granted under the Dayton Peace Accords. In terms of foreign policy and economics, the Republika Srpska turns to Belgrade, not to Sarajevo. According to opinion polls, 90 percent of the Serbs living here would vote in a referendum for integration with Serbia.

Postwar nationalism has since infected even the country's youth. In many schools in Croat-dominated Herzegovina, tensions between Croat and Muslim children have lately been running so high that the two groups have been using separate school entrances since September and lessons are now conducted in shifts.

When children in these schools attend history class, one group of children celebrates people as heroes who are decried as war criminals in the other group's history books. It comes as no surprise that, according to a survey conducted by the EUFOR peacekeeping force, Bosnians, especially young people, barely identify with the Bosnian state as a whole.

Even symbolism cannot hide the divides. The reconstruction of the historic bridge over the Neretva River in Mostar has only concealed the city's division into a Bosnian eastern sector and a Croat western sector. There are two universities, two hospitals, two radio stations and two school systems.

Opening the door to extremists?

How should the peace mission continue? In January, former German Minister for Post and Telecommunications Christian Schwarz-Schilling, 74, is likely to replace the current High Representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown. Schwarz-Schilling has already served for nine years as an arbitrator. Ashdown, a former member of the British Royal Marines who is accustomed to close combat, failed to garner much support doing his term in office. Serbs, Croats and Muslims alike have all criticized him as an arrogant colonial ruler.

The European Union recently offered Bosnia association talks, but on the condition that the country introduce reforms and ratify a new constitution, which is to be presented to the Bosnian government by April 2006. "The Dayton agreement was suitable for ending the war," says a Western diplomat, "but it's a catastrophe when it comes to running a country."

Until now, says Donald Hays, the Bosnia Representative's right-hand man for many years, the UN and the United States have clearly rejected opening up the Dayton packet, because it would mean having to debate the future of the entities.

But the legal reforms Brussels is demanding would not be any less drastic. In addition to a functioning judicial system and control over corruption, the EU wants a tough stance in the fight against organized crime. Bosnia is an important hub for the smuggling of weapons, drugs and women, and politicians frequently work hand-in-hand with criminals.

Efforts by Arab extremists to gain a foothold in the country have raised additional concerns, especially among Muslims. Saudi Arabia is said to have invested more than $1 billion in the Sarajevo region so far, for projects that include the construction of 158 mosques. In addition, fundamentalists from Syria, Egypt and Algeria are allegedly using the country for their terrorist training camps.

Adil Kulenovic, Muslim and director of Studio 99, a radio and television station, is rather helpless. He says that it has become virtually impossible for the station to comment on the situation for its listeners and viewers, adding that "Bosnia, 10 years after the end of the war, is still in a state of confusion."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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